Surgeon general urges public to carry opioid overdose reversal drug in rare advisory

Charlie Archambault

The surgeon general in a rare public health advisory is calling on more Americans to carry a potentially life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Jerome Adams said it is particularly important for friends and family of those at risk of an opioid overdose to have naloxone on hand as the nation’s opioid crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

Adams said increasing the availability of naloxone and expanding treatment services are key to helping manage opioid addiction and overdoses, which are killing more people per year than traffic accidents.

“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose — that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” Adams said in a statement.

“It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”

Many first responders carry naloxone, which comes in the form of an injection or a nasal mist. All states have passed laws aimed at increasing the drug’s availability, according to a surgeon general’s news release, and in most states it can be requested at a pharmacy without a prescription.

The association representing nearly 3,000 local health departments across the country applauded the surgeon general’s move, but said it’s just one step in the multi-faceted effort needed to curb the opioid epidemic.

“Dr. Adams is helping destigmatize those who are struggling with opioid addiction by acknowledging the importance of keeping people alive,” Laura Hanen, the National Association of County and City Health Officials interim executive director and chief of government affairs, said in a statement.

“We strongly support increasing the public’s access to and use of naloxone.”

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen urged the federal government to make naloxone more affordable, suggesting it negotiate a discounted rate with manufacturers or provide funds for increased access to treatment.  

“Unfortunately, [Baltimore is] having to ration naloxone because we simply don’t have the resources to purchase this life-saving antidote,” Wen said in a statement. “Every week, we count the doses we have left and make hard decisions about who will receive the medication and who will have to go without.”

It’s been more than a dozen years since the last public health advisory, which in 2005 warned of drinking alcohol while pregnant.

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